A Review by The Mike
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Movie Released: 2009
To be frank, I’m shocked in the popularity that zombie films have gained in mainstream avenues over the past decade. Long a favorite of more “underground” horror fanatics, the zombie film has exploded since the release of films like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, and the Dawn of the Dead remake. In fact, a lot of filmmakers over the last several years have worked to use the zombie as a tool to get a theme across. These themes can be as simple as romance or comedy, but can also delve into social commentary on war, 1950’s society, teenage sexuality, and more. George Romero, father of the modern zombie with his original Dead trilogy (who has also completed three more Dead films since this resurgence began) started this ball rolling with sly jabs at race and social norms in his films, but the new breed of zombies can be manipulated in far more direct manners, it seems.
None of this matters when it comes down to Zombieland. This is not a zombie movie with a message about society. It’s a comedic romp that’s sure to gain acclaim from mainstream audiences across the globe, and it’s a good sign that this zombie horror revolution isn’t as close to an end as we may have recently thought.
With relative newcomer Ruben Fleischer at the helm, Zombieland sets off to tell the tale of four survivors in a zombie ravaged America, starting with Jesse Eisenberg’s ‘Columbus’. Columbus is a relatively normal nerd who’s survived almost entirely by outrunning zombies and keeping his life on track with a strict set of rules that he follows to a neurotic T. This becomes a bit of a challenge when he catches a ride from another survivor, Woody Harrelson’s ‘Tallahassee’, a much more aggressive and much less restricted man who loves that he’s so good at killing zombies. Tallahassee’s also in search of a golden prize throughout the film, resulting in a sideplot that gives the film a lot of great comedic moments. I won’t spoil that one for you here. I will say that Harrelson fills the role well, and shows off his chops as an actor that can handle action, comedy, or drama with ease.
These polar opposites later run into two female survivors, the feisty ‘Wichita’ (Superbad’s Emma Stone) and her twelve-year-old sister ‘Little Rock’ (Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin), a duo who always seem to have a trick up their sleeves and plan to get to a California amusement park that’s “completely zombie free”. (Good luck with that.) The rest of the cast is rounded out by zombies, along with a couple of cameos (most won’t call the appearance of mega-babe Amber Heard a cameo yet, but wait a little while and you’ll see). The other cameo will be a highlight of the film to most, and rightfully so. It’s terribly funny.
In fact, most of Fleischer’s film is funny. But there are also a lot of great character building moments in the script, and each character is well-balanced in regard to comedy and dramatic growth. The writers (Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick) do an excellent job of giving the audience a palpable film that succeeds at keeping the zombies off screen for long periods of time while still building human relationships and establishing the terrors of this unpredictable land. It’s a very strongly written popcorn horror film, which is rare for a studio release these days.
When the zombies do come in to play, they’re represented like they may be represented in a video game. Characters expend lots of ammo from lots of different guns, not to mention any blunt object that our heroes and heroines can wield easily. The zombie effects themselves are good – there’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking, but there weren’t any glaring issues with the creature effects either. The film also shys away from building any of the zombies as characters or showing humanity in them, making it clear that this is a case of simple predation with no alterior motive.
There’s not a lot to dislike about this one. Some might call it a fluff piece that doesn’t hit on important issues and follows a standard path to its ending, and they’d be right. But Zombieland succeeds at what it wants to do on almost every level, and I see little that makes me believe this won’t be one of the most played Hollywood horror films over the next decade. Solid direction and writing, likable characters played by capable actors, a strong soundtrack and plenty of gore that’s not too gross to turn off the masses….Zombieland has everything a film of its sort could need. I’d say it’s at least a Prime Choice on my grading scale, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it maintain over time and make a leap into legends status. This is a great film to experience that should sit alongside the best zombie films and horror comedies that recent memory has to offer.
Final Grade: Prime Choice – A great viewing experience.